US will face its first stern test vs. Sweden Thursday
For the US against Sweden, there should be few concerns about running up the score or excessive celebrations, inappropriate or otherwise. But US coach Jill Ellis will also have to find the right combination of players when her team meets the Swedes in Le Havre Thursday.
It seemed Ellis could throw just about anyone on the US roster out in the opening two Women’s World Cup games. But Sweden presents a challenge, and she will likely go with the group that opened the tournament with a 13-0 victory over Thailand.
Though this will be a grudge match, as well as a showdown for first place in Group F, the advantages of winning are questionable. The first-place team meets Spain in the second round and, likely, tournament host France in the quarterfinals. The runnerup gets Canada or The Netherlands next and, probably, Germany in the quarterfinals. Ellis has noted the folly of trying to manipulate results, and it would be difficult to know the most desirable outcome of this match, anyway.
The strongest roadblocks for the US would be France and Germany. But the French have appeared vulnerable and the Germans are missing their best player — Dzsenifer Marozsán (broken toe) — though she could return later in the tournament.
The US has had a favorable schedule. The Thais and Chileans (3-0 win) provided glorified training session opposition. So, the Yanks might get to the title game on July 7 having played only four challenging foes. Since they present the WWC’s oldest team (average age 29), getting some breathers should help, no matter how well-conditioned the American players are.
But the US also needs to be tested. And the tournament needs high-level competitive contests for the sake of credibility. A US victory would avenge results such as the 0-0 draw with Sweden in the 2015 WWC and a penalty kicks loss to the Swedes in the 2016 Olympics. Mainly, though, a win could help galvanize the US and prepare the team for the knockout phase. The WWC will be in Day 15, but it won’t feel like the competition has truly started until the US gets into a real game.
■ Ellen White scored twice as England made it easy on themselves, taking a 2-0 victory over Japan in Nice on Wednesday. Several starters were able to rest and Barcelona’s Toni Duggan eased her way back into the lineup as England (3-0-0, 9 points) finished a sweep of Group D. Next up will be a a third-place opponent in Valenciennes on Sunday.
■ Scotland squandered a three-goal lead in a 3-3 tie with Argentina in Paris, blowing a chance to advance, and becoming the only European nation to fail to win during this WWC. Coach Shelley Kerr failed to make the right moves — no substitutes until the 86th minute, after the lead had been cut to 3-2 — as Scotland struggled to shut things down. The Argentinians scored thrice in the final 16 minutes, their only goals of the tournament.
■ Canada vs. Netherlands, Group E, Reims
The Dutch have a 0-9-3 record against Canada, but their improvement can be gauged by a 1-1 draw between the teams in the 2015 WWC.
■ Cameroon vs. New Zealand, Group E, Montpellier. Both teams have a chance to advance as third-place finishers.
■ Chile vs. Thailand, Group F, Rennes. The teams have been outscored, 23-1, in games against the US and Sweden.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.